The NY Times Editorial Board: Bitter Opponents of Free Speech

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial titled “The Koch Party” raises once again the question whether the paper’s editorial board has been hijacked by Democratic Underground:

Only a few weeks into this midterm election year, the right-wing political zeppelin is fully inflated with secret cash and is firing malicious falsehoods at supporters of health care reform.

Remember the good old days when people called the Times the “Gray Lady”? Now it’s far-left hysteria, all the time. What has the editors riled up is the spreading of “malicious falsehoods” about Obamacare. Falsehoods such as, if you like your health care, you can keep it? Don’t be silly! The Times is talking about “malicious falsehoods” like the fact that millions of people are losing their existing coverage because of the statute.

As Carl Hulse of The Times reported recently, Democrats have been staggered by a $20 million advertising blitz produced by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group organized and financed by the Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists.

Twenty million dollars is a pittance in today’s political world. In 2012 the Obama campaign spent over $1 billion, without any objection from the editors of the Times. This money is different, though: it is dissident money, contributed by people the New York Times hates. If Andrew Cuomo thinks conservatives have no place in New York State, the Times thinks they shouldn’t exist, period.

The specific target here is Americans For Prosperity. I believe it is true that at least one of the Koch brothers has contributed to AFP, but AFP is a legitimate grass-roots organization. Several million Americans have participated in one or another of its activities, and I assume its donors number at least in the tens of thousands. We don’t know the number because AFP, like all similar organizations, does not release a list of its donors.

In one typical example, the group’s ad against Representative Gary Peters of Michigan, a Democrat who is running for an open Senate seat, is full of distortions and lies.

More temperate, sophisticated commentary from what used to be the Paper of Record, and is now the Paper of Partisan Hysterics.

It accuses Mr. Peters of lying when he said the law bars cancellations of insurance policies. Mr. Peters happened to be right, as millions of people who once faced losing all insurance after they got sick now appreciate. The 225,000 Michigan residents who the ad said received “cancellation notices” were actually told that they could change to a better policy; they were not told they could no longer have insurance, as the ad implies.

This is a laughable argument, even by the Times’s low standards. Millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands in Michigan, lost their health insurance coverage because their policies were terminated. They were terminated because under Obamacare, it was illegal to sell them. The paper’s argument–they weren’t cancelled, they were only terminated!–is fatuous. And who could write this line with a straight face? “The…Michigan residents…were actually told that they could change to a better policy.” “Better,” meaning more expensive, because Obamacare requires consumers to pay for coverages they don’t want and can’t use. Also, note that when the mass cancellation of employer-sponsored plans begins–the Obama administration has estimated that more than half of all employer-sponsored plans will be terminated by Obamacare–those millions of employees may or may not be given the opportunity to “change to a [more expensive] policy.”

Naturally, Democrats are using the campaign to increase their own fund-raising, begging donors to give unlimited amounts to left-leaning super PACs and advocacy groups. But it is unlikely that they will be able to match the resources or the cunning of the Kochs, who are using vast pools of money earned through corporate revenues to build a network unrivaled in complexity and secrecy.

And yet somehow, in virtually every contested election more money is spent on behalf of the Democratic candidate than the Republican. How that happens, the Times never explains. Happily, though, while Republicans are outspent, they are also “cunning!” I think that means they have the facts on their side.

What the Times wants is for opposition to its left-wing agenda to be stamped out. It wants the enemies of the state identified so they can be dealt with:

In 2012, as The Washington Post reported, the Koch network raised $407 million, which was secreted among 17 groups with cryptic names and purposes that were designed to make it impossible to figure out the names of donors the Kochs worked with. As one tax expert told The Post, “it’s designed to make it opaque as to where the money is coming from and where the money is going.” …

The clandestine influence of the Kochs and their Palm Springs friends would be much reduced if they were forced to play in the sunshine.

By which the editors mean that they want legislation to require donors to 501(c)(4) organizations to be made public. But think about the last sentence quoted above. Why, exactly, would the influence of conservative donors be reduced if they “were forced to play in the sunshine?” Presumably because people would be less likely to contribute to conservative groups if their names were required to be disclosed. But why would that be?

The conflict over privacy as it relates to the right of association for civic or political purposes is an old one. It was the subject of the 1958 Supreme Court case, NAACP v. Patterson. The State of Alabama was trying to prevent the NAACP from operating within its jurisdiction. As part of that effort, the state, in litigation with the NAACP, requested the organization’s membership list. The NAACP asserted that it had a constitutional right to maintain its members’ privacy. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court agreed. This is some of the key language of the court’s opinion:

It is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as the forms of governmental action in the cases above were thought likely to produce upon the particular constitutional rights there involved. This Court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations. When referring to the varied forms of governmental action which might interfere with freedom of assembly, it said in American Communications Assn. v. Douds, supra, at 339 U. S. 402:

A requirement that adherents of particular religious faiths or political parties wear identifying armbands, for example, is obviously of this nature.

Compelled disclosure of membership in an organization engaged in advocacy of particular beliefs is of the same order. Inviolability of privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs. Cf. United States v. Rumely, supra, at 345 U. S. 56-58 (concurring opinion).

In today’s world, conservatives are dissidents.

We think that the production order, in the respects here drawn in question, must be regarded as entailing the likelihood of a substantial restraint upon the exercise by petitioner’s members of their right to freedom of association. Petitioner has made an uncontroverted showing that, on past occasions, revelation of the identity of its rank-and-file members has exposed these members to economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility. Under these circumstances, we think it apparent that compelled disclosure of petitioner’s Alabama membership is likely to affect adversely the ability of petitioner and its members to pursue their collective effort to foster beliefs which they admittedly have the right to advocate, in that it may induce members to withdraw from the Association and dissuade others from joining it because of fear of exposure of their beliefs shown through their associations and of the consequences of this exposure.

The same logic applies to donors to conservative political organizations. We have learned through experience that the Obama administration will use the Internal Revenue Service to harass and intimidate those whom it regards as enemies. Other government agencies are available, and have sometimes been used, for the same purpose. If a company is identified as a substantial contributor to conservative 501(c)(4) organizations, its facilities in Democrat-controlled states can be subjected to OSHA inspections. The EPA can swing into action with inspections, or can formulate new regulations that will disadvantage a particular company or industry. U.S. Attorneys can launch criminal investigations of conservative donors, for any reason or no reason. This has already happened, and if all 501(c)(4) donors were made public, the practice would no doubt be more widespread.

Worst of all, violence and threats of violence would be inevitable. We have already seen some of that–liberals descending on private citizens’ homes, trying to frighten their families. In one notorious case, a teenage boy was home alone when a union-led mob, bused to the scene, attacked the front porch of his family’s house. Terrified, he locked himself in a bathroom. Most recently, attacks on Google buses in San Francisco have reportedly forced the company to hire armed security to protect its employees. And what of the Koch brothers themselves? They have received countless death threats, and their residences have been besieged by left-wing activists. Small wonder that most people who donate to conservative organizations would rather remain private.

But again: Why does the Times think that the effectiveness of conservative 501(c)(4)s “would be much reduced” if the government forced them to make donor lists public? I can think of only one reason: the Times and its allies on the far left would harass and vilify them; liberals would organize boycotts of their companies’ products; thugs from unions and Occupy Wall Street would threaten their families; the Obama administration would see that their taxes are audited and other administrative measures brought to bear. This is what the Times and other liberals want. Liberals like those on the Times editorial board have no wish to argue with conservatives; they almost always lose. What they want, instead, is to squash dissent by shutting conservatives up.

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